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Newport Beach shuts down 4 water wells

January 30, 2002

Paul Clinton

NEWPORT BEACH -- The city shut down its four drinking water wells in

Fountain Valley on Monday after traces of a dangerous substance were

found in the county's ground-water aquifer.

Known as "1,4-Dioxane," the industrial solvent is one of 50 that have

been placed on a state watch list as a danger to public health.

City officials decided to stop the flow of water from the aquifer into

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the city's drinking water supply while they investigate the chemical,

which is a probable cancer-causing agent.

"The city has decided to pull the pumps offline just so we can figure

out more about the relative health risk of continuing to use the water,"

Assistant City Manager Dave Kiff said. "I don't think it's a significant

health risk."

The indefinite closure of the wells is expected to more than double

the cost of water to the city, which relies on water from the aquifer for

its entire supply from October through April. The city receives 75% of

its water from the aquifer during the peak summer months and buys the

remaining 25% from the Metropolitan Water District of Orange County.

While the wells are shut off, the city will buy all of its water from

the Metropolitan Water District. That will lead to a spike in costs to

the city from the typical $7,350 a day for water to $15,225, officials

said.

The chemical was discovered by the Orange County Water District in

early December during a new testing program.

Before using newer high-tech equipment, the district could not detect

the compound in small doses. Nine of the district's wells were deemed

contaminated, including two managed by Mesa Consolidated Water District.

The other two wells are managed by Fountain Valley.

The solvent was found in the wells in the range of four to eight parts

per billion, which is above the state's "action level" of three parts per

billion on the substance. Local agencies must address the contaminant

when it crosses that level.

The California Department of Health Services also sets a "maximum

contaminant level" for many of the toxins. If a substance reaches that

level, it must be immediately removed. The department has not set that

standard yet, but the agency recommends that agencies pull their wells

offline at 300 parts per billion, said Orange County Water District

Assistant General Manager Michael Wehner.

"At the concentrations we found, it's not a significant risk," Wehner

said. "Those are trace concentrations."

After discovering the contaminant, district officials implemented

additional ultraviolet screening of the waste water that is injected into

the aquifer.

The water used to treat sewage at the Orange County Sanitation

District is put into the aquifer after receiving additional treatment.

Jack Skinner, a longtime Newport Beach drinking water activist, said

he was disturbed by the discovery but lauded the agencies for working

quickly to handle the problem.

"It's troubling because every time you find a chemical compound, it is

a concern," Skinner said. "It's important to have a very assiduous effort

to find the chemicals and work out a method to remove them."

* Paul Clinton covers the environment and John Wayne Airport. He may

be reached at (949) 764-4330 or by e-mail ato7

paul.clinton@latimes.comf7 .

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